Checking in on a Claim

While driving home from my first class of the Fall Semester last night, I listened to part of the game on the radio. As I passed Exit 19 on the southbound, Ramiro Pena knocked in Jorge Posada to give the Yankees six runs. Right before he did that, everyone’s favorite radio whipping boy and whipping girl, John Sterling and Suyzn Waldman, made a comment saying that both Pena and Francisco Cervelli became better hitters when the situation called for it. Of course, the term they used was “situational hitting.” Since I’m always curious, I made a mental note to check that idea when I got home. So, let’s see what I found.

Let’s start with Cervelli. Going into last night, Cervelli had a WPA of -1.57 (-4.99 -WPA + 3.43 +WPA) so we’re already seeing that, generally, Cervelli doesn’t do much at the plate to advance the Yankee winning cause. But, let’s be nice, that covers all situations, not just the situations we want to look at. After viewing the WPA number, we look over at the “clutch” number which FanGraphs defines as “how much worse or better a player does in high leverage situations than he would’ve done in context neutral situations. Frankie’s clutch score is -0.35. Okay, maybe John and Suyzn weren’t right here. Let’s keep digging and look at some of his splits.

With the bases empty, Cervelli has a .628 OPS. With men on, he’s got a .645 OPS. So, maybe there is something to this. And, with runners in scoring position, Frankie has a .741 OPS (all three of those per Baseball-Reference). Hey, look at that. Maybe his situational hitting is better than I’m giving him credit for. Still, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Those situations aren’t always the biggest situations of the game. In high leverage situations, Cervelli has a pathetic .327 OPS and a .153 (!!!!!) wOBA (both of those per FanGraphs). Yeah, John and Suyzn, you struck out here. Francisco Cervelli is not a good hitter and is not a good situational hitter.

Let’s try this experiment for Pena, numbers only.

WPA: -0.13 (-1.88, +1.75)
Clutch: 0.66
Empty: .480
Men on: .512
RISP: .434
High Leverage (OPS/wOBA): .571/.326

So it looks like there may be a little something to this with Pena. Now, with a .326 wOBA in high leverage situation, it’s not exactly like the dude is lighting the world on fire when it counts, but he is doing something better than his normal season (.236 wOBA).

John, Suyzn, you were halfish right.

3 thoughts on “Checking in on a Claim

  1. Damian

    Unfortunately my only access to the games is by radio. When Pena came up with a runner on, I just knew I was going to have to listen to how good a situational hitter he is. Of course they went into it, and Pena hit his single, knocking in a run, and John and Suzyn patted themselves on the back a little for the serendipity of it.

    The frustrating part is that they cannot recognize that Ramiro Pena’s relative success with runners on does not make him a good situational hitter. It means basically he’s lucked into some hits with runners on. In fact, according to Sterling’s call last night, Pena reached for a ball below the strike zone and managed to punch it up the middle. Ramiro Pena is not Vladimir Guerrero; that hit was most likely the result of blind luck. Of course it’s possible that there’s something unique about Ramiro Pena that makes him dedicate a special focus to the task of hitting when there are runners in scoring position, but I do not think that’s the best explanation for the results we see. The best explanation I think is good luck.

  2. LeftyLarry

    Cervelli often ducks his left shoulder, thus raisng his right and changing the angle of his eyes as he awaits the pitch.
    This IMO gives him a late look at the ball, (try it) I don’t undetstand how th batting coach hasn’t changed this.The fact he can get around on a fastball at all is amazing and he’s more likley to not be albe to get out of the way of an inside pitch and get beaned which we already know is a problem.
    It’s subtle but how the heck can you recognize when your head is slightly tilted and your left eye is lower?
    Watch him await the pitch.

  3. Bob K

    John & Suzyn being half right is roughly three quarters more right than they usually are.

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